I won’t pretend to know anything about Conor McGregor, about mixed martial arts or about UFC in particular, but I must admit that I admire his chutzpah just as much as I find the violence of his sport repellent. I’m not passing judgement by saying that. Just stating a fact: I personally find the violence repellent and yet there’s something about the way McGregor carries himself that’s hard to dislike. You always feel that the swagger and the trash-talk are just things he must do, having bought into a world where trash-talk and swagger are valued above all else.
And besides, it’s not as if McGregor is alone in all the hubris and the posturing. It’s not as if he doesn’t have the finest of fighting royalty on his side in the form of Muhammad Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, the finest exponent of trash-talk known to the pugilistic world. And just like Conor McGregor, The Greatest sometimes let his standards slip a little as he did in his treatment of Smokin’ Joe. There was no call for the things he said about his opponent, and Joe carried the hurt of Ali’s words to his grave long after the pain of the punches had subsided.
Likewise, when years pass and Conor McGregor no longer sees himself as a modern-day gladiator, perhaps he’ll reflect on some of his words and cringe a little. He might be cringeing right now at his hubristic predictions that he’d take out Nate Diaz in the first round, but that’s UFC for you. The hype always trumps the truth which is this: Conor McGregor had to put on 25 pounds to fight a much heavier opponent who also happens to be a Ju-Jitsu black-belt. When he fought Jose Aldo, McGregor looked sick, having dehydrated himself so much in order to make the weight, and when he met Diaz, he wasn’t ready, because such major body changes take time to settle down.
Now, McGregor says he’ll lose 25 pounds and drop back to Featherweight to defend his world title, prompting many to ask how this can be good for his health. Is this life imitating Art, or to be more precise, is it life imitating the making of Art? It looks a lot like the insane weight regime Robert De Niro followed when he played Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. In order to fit in with the filming schedule which required shooting LaMotta’s latter days first, De Niro piled on the pounds at the start of shooting to play the older Jake and then drastically shed it all to play Jake the lean middleweight. This sort of thing can’t be good for a person’s health, and yet that’s also what Conor McGregor is planning to do in order to defend his featherweight crown.
Moving up two weight divisions, Conor McGregor had the energy of a featherweight powering the body of a welterweight. How was that ever going to work? When he failed to knock Diaz in the first round, he ended up mixing it on the floor with a Ju-Jitsu expert and that contest was only ever going in one direction, but perhaps much of the problem can be explained by his decision to torture his body with gigantic weight changes.
As I said, I don’t know much about mixed martial arts, but how much do I need to know to understand that this sort of thing can’t be good? In many ways, it strikes me as a sort of macho anorexia and it seems to be leading in the same direction, although the million dollars Conor McGregor collected for his defeat will no doubt sweeten the bitter pill.
He strikes me (though not literally, I’m glad to say) as a nice enough guy. He’s pulled off a great coup in becoming the darling of UFC and he’s made a lot of money. Maybe Conor McGregor might consider not shedding all that weight, which, unlike De Niro, consists mostly of muscle. Maybe, if he has any sense, he won’t endanger his heart, and instead maybe he’ll decide to just enjoy the money he’s already made.
I hope he does. It’s plenty.